Film and TV

Summer TV Club: Family Ties, "Say Uncle"

Of the television shows that Jef, Pete and I have watched this summer, none of them had quite the nostalgic cache, for me anyway, as this week's focus on Family Ties. As a kid I lived and breathed for this show, and the episode we watched this week, "Say Uncle," has always stood out.

Those unfamiliar with the episode should know that it guest stars a very young and goofy Tom Hanks, who you would never guess would win any Academy Awards for acting based on his performance in this episode. This is something of a dramatic role, so perhaps all of the credit for his prolific career should be credited to these 24 minutes of bad acting.

Hanks plays Elyse Keaton's brother, who is worshipped and adored by the family despite his run in with white collar crime. Uncle Ned (Tom Hanks) is down on his luck, out of work and his usual light drinking has turned heavy. He's a hot a mess, and it's up to the seraphic Keatons to save the day.

ABBY: Let's start with the obvious: Have you or anyone you've ever known posed for a family portrait and how was that? I can't imagine it's fun, but certainly narcissistic.

JEF: My wife makes me do family pictures every couple of years. There's too much corralling of the child to feel narcissistic.

PETE: I cut and paste actual pictures of my kids into hilarious scenarios for our Christmas card. For example, last year my oldest was sitting in with Obama and Clinton while they watched the raid on Abbottabad. The grandparents love it.

ABBY: Like paintings or Sears? Anyway, the Keatons, especially Alex, are really in love with their Uncle Ned, but his clownish behavior, I found, an off-putting front and I imagine he is someone that is difficult to really get close to. Am I Freuding this up too much?

JEF: Considering that I owe pretty much my entire existence to clownish behavior, it didn't bother me too much. That said, the '80s were really bad about overplaying the wacky guest star thing. It was hard to sincerely like them because it was usually too hammy for words.

PETE: My uncles were always at their most hilarious when they were young and childless, so Ned's outré goofiness didn't bother me. Then again, none of my uncles would've been caught dead singing a Billy Joel song.

ABBY: Let's talk about the alcoholism. Firstly, can you get drunk off of vanilla extract and furthermore can you get drunk off of maraschino cherry juice? What is the weirdest thing you guys drank to try and be drunk? In high school my boyfriend stole a bottle of pepper vodka from his sister's cabinet and not understanding that this should be mixed with a Bloody Mary we drank it with coke. It was disgusting.

JEF: I stick to $3 merlot and vodka when I feel like getting into trouble. Yes, you can get drunk on vanilla extract, though I do not recommend it at all. I honestly never drank before I was legally able to, so I don't have any sneak thief stories.

PETE: Oooh, *pepper* vodka. Did you drink it in the maid's quarters, Miss Fancy?

Even as high school drinkers, we never stooped lower than Schaefer or MD 20/20. Teenagers will try absolutely anything (gasoline, oven cleaner, banana peels) to get a buzz, but vanilla extract? I think that's where you're approaching the proverbial bottom.

ABBY: Would you have even tried to get Uncle Ned an interview at your PBS station knowing that he was in finance and was also kicked out of finance. Why would anyone think he would be good as a television program manager?

JEF: Knowing the people I do in television, they'll let pretty much anyone takes a shot at anything if they've got someone to vouch for them.

PETE: Program "consultant." Whatever the hell that is. Remember, Ned has a degree from HAH-VAHD. Who care cares if it's in a completely unrelated field? Or maybe you haven't heard: he spoke in front of the World Bank.

ABBY: Uncle Ned drunkenly punches Alex but doesn't try and molest Mallory. How much stronger of an episode with this be had the latter happened instead?

JEF: These aren't really connected, are they? I'm a happy drunk, so I wouldn't know, but I don't think Ned was weighing those two options in his noggin before going with the punch. I do think it would have upped the class of the episode if he had referred to someone, anyone, as "Sugar Tits."

PETE: It was simply a manifestation of his feelings of professional impotence that prevented him from ... yeah, I got nothing.

ABBY: While watching this, would you think Tom Hanks would go on to win so many acting awards. He is quite terrible, dramatically speaking, in this. He should have stuck to comedy, right?

JEF: The fact that there has never been a Turner & Hooch sequel is a sin for which I hope God destroys mankind. Hanks has great comedic timing, even when he's clearly phoning it in like in this episode.

PETE: It would take Hanks the entire decade to get regarded seriously as an actor. In the meantime, Bachelor Party, Dragnet, and Joe vs. the Volcano are forgotten classics.

ABBY: And some of the best movies he's ever made! But have either of you ever had a drunken family member that you needed to have an intervention for? You don't have to say or anything if you don't want. My family is mostly drunks and we recently had an intervention for a member that wasn't drinking enough. I'm kidding... kinda.

JEF: My mom has had to physically disarm two family members and then had them committed for alcohol abuse. When something like this happens, we usually tag and bag them after beating them unconscious with a broken chair leg. It gets the job done.

PETE: My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

ABBY: I wish Skippy was in this episode.

JEF: I wish Uncle Ned had been played by Christopher Walken. And that I had a pony.

PETE: I wish Ned hadn't used his full name when he called A.A. It's Alcoholics Anonymous, you fool!

Next week, as I am on vacation, the TV Club will feature non other than John Seaborn Grey in my stead. It should be a good one as the guys will be watching Red Dwarf: "Thanks for the Memory," the third episode from the second season. Remember everything we watch in on Netflix so that you can watch along and be annoyed with our analyzation of the show.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig